Washington, D.C. — As part of Second Chance Month, a new analysis from the Center for American Progress examines the barriers that people with criminal records face in securing and staying in affordable housing.
Due to decades of overpolicing and the failed war on drugs, more than 1 in 3 Americans has a criminal record. Systemic racism in the criminal justice system has caused communities of color, and particularly Black Americans, to receive criminal records at higher rates than other groups, meaning that the often lifetime consequences of having a criminal record are disproportionately felt by these communities, perpetuating racial inequality.
People with criminal records face numerous barriers to finding and keeping secure housing, ranging from background checks as part of housing applications to denial of constitutional fair housing law protections, eviction and housing forfeiture, and denial of rental or sale. These barriers affect a range of housing types, including rental housing, student campus housing, federal and public housing, temporary housing at motels and hotels, and some congregate sheltered housing. Criminal records also contribute to the separation of families because people with criminal records are sometimes prohibited from living in the same unit as their relatives.
The difficulties that people with criminal records face in obtaining housing often perpetuate further involvement in the justice system. In a 2020 Marshall Project survey of currently incarcerated people across the country, when respondents were asked what could have kept them out of prison, among the top answers were access to affordable housing and living wages.
As Jaboa Lake writes in “Preventing and Removing Barriers to Housing Security for People With Criminal Convictions,” ending this cycle requires robust investments in communities and actions to reduce the impact of involvement with the criminal legal system, including:
- Ending hypercriminalization and overpolicing. Reducing arrests and convictions would ultimately reduce the number of people affected by the collateral consequences of having a criminal record.
- Investing in affordable housing and the social safety net. Investing in housing programs and other social safety net programs would alleviate the cycle of poverty that many people say led them to receive a criminal record.
- Automating criminal record clearing and expungement, through policies such as Clean Slate laws. A recent study on access to criminal record expungement found that only 7 percent of people had their record cleared within five years of eligibility due to expenses and bureaucratic obstacles associated with record-sealing. Automating record-sealing would alleviate many of these barriers and ensure that more people didn’t carry their convictions with them for life.
- Removing the collateral consequences of criminal records. Elected leaders should end policies that strategically exclude people with criminal records from qualifying for housing programs and rental housing, furthering racial and economic inequality.
“Stable housing is more than just putting a roof over someone’s head. It’s a source of economic stability and a way to keep people healthy and safe,” said Lake, a senior policy analyst at the Center for American Progress. “Removing barriers to housing for justice-involved individuals is long overdue. State and federal policymakers can and must end the cycles of poverty and overcriminalization of communities of color by investing in communities by ensuring affordable housing and safety net programs, automatic record-sealing, and that a criminal record is never an obstacle to having a place to call home.”
For more information on this topic or to speak to an expert, contact Julia Cusick at gro.ssergorpnacirema@kcisucj.